Tate: Groce stitching it together

Tate: Groce stitching it together

You’ve witnessed it in a dozen old Westerns ... those gritty fellows holding down a besieged fort until ... wait now, listen ... isn’t that a bugler leading troops to the rescue?

John Groce and his assistants are those gritty fellows. They’re holding the fort as they shake heaven and earth for help ahead of a Big Ten basketball season that will find them outnumbered at the top and squeezed from the bottom. You won’t hear them say it, but the immediate task is to hang on until the incoming freshmen have time to develop, to stay relevant until Aaron Cosby is joined by the next recruiting infusion, to somehow keep the arrows pointing in the same direction they were at the end of this season.

This is a tall order as they build around senior Joseph Bertrand and juniors Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Myke Henry.

Latest addition is Illinois State’s 6-foot-7 Jon Ekey, who hopes to assume Tyler Griffey’s role as a perimeter-shooting forward. With the UI’s three most prolific (and often erratic) three-point shooters gone, Ekey fills a need. He will be the fifth transfer in three seasons as the Illini, showing a three-year 23-31 conference record, repeatedly have sought to fill holes on the run.

Groce still has another spot for a fifth-year transfer and will work it to the limit. But, face it, this is a hard way to do business in a conference ruled by some of the nation’s best athletes and premier coaches.

Meanwhile, Michigan State continues to sweat out an undecided Adreian Payne (he has until April 28) while NBA hits already have diminished Indiana (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo), Michigan (Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.) and Ohio State (Deshaun Thomas). Those three teams have blue-chippers on the way and will continue to excel, but they won’t be as imposing as before, and Wisconsin faces the task of replacing a frontline lost to graduation. So, the first division will offer easier, but still difficult, access while the teams that finished behind Illinois generally will be stronger.

What to make of Mav?
Next falls into the mystery category.

The 4,000-member Ohio Coaches Association voted incoming UI center Maverick Morgan the state’s Player of the Year. The 6-10 Morgan had a superb season, averaging 24.7 points and 9.6 rebounds for a strong Springboro quintet that competed in the state’s biggest division. He also was named to the AP all-state team. His team finished 20-5 and ranked 12th in Ohio.

And yet Morgan wasn’t rated in the nation’s Top 150 preps by ESPN, Rivals or Scout. Did the rating agencies, which emphasize summer play, not take into account Morgan’s high school performance? Was this an off year in this usually productive state?

According to Rivals’ Brad Sturdy, the answer to both questions is “yes.” Ohio was down, and prep performance was underplayed.

In revising its ratings this week, Rivals lists three Ohioans: No. 67 Marc Loving of Toledo (Ohio State), No. 111 Mark Donnal of Whitehouse (Michigan) and No. 117 Kevin Johnson of Cincinnati (Cincinnati). Morgan would have checked in between 151 and 160, according to Sturdy.

Conflicting ratings remind that these prep evaluations should not be taken as fact. For Morgan, it now boils down to how his game translates to the next level. And the same can be said for Malcolm Hill, another 25-point scorer who appeared much too productive at Belleville East to be ranked as low as No. 62.

Money well spent
By the time the ink is dry on today’s newspaper, a college coach will receive a raise in pay. That’s how fast it is happening.

And for those surprised by Groce’s $200,000 boost to $1.6 million, consider this: A few miles southeast of here, the red-hot basketball programs at Louisville and Kentucky are paying more than $5 million annually to Rick Pitino and John Calipari. At Kansas, Bill Self has reached that number. In the Big Ten, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Indiana’s Tom Crean and Ohio State’s Thad Matta are now over $3 million, and Purdue’s Matt Painter and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan are well past $2 million. And after finishing runner-up, watch for the contract of Michigan’s John Beilein to balloon well past $2 million.

Groce doesn’t rank in the league’s top half, but he’s doing extremely well for a coach with one year of Big Ten experience.

Understand now, these numbers are generalizations because we haven’t taken into account all the retention bonuses, incentive clauses and awards, not to mention cars and country club deals. For example, Groce received a $25,000 bonus for getting Illinois into the NCAA tournament. Beilein had a deal whereby he made $25,000 for each NCAA victory, and the Wolverines won five games. So while Burke’s fantastic shot against Kansas confirmed his Player of the Year status, it ultimately led to an extra $75,000 in Beilein’s bank account. At Iowa, Fran McCaffery missed out on $50,000 by not getting the Hawkeyes in the NCAA tournament, and another $50,000 slipped away when Iowa lost the NIT final against Baylor.

Is McCaffery jealous of Izzo? No, as he told the Des Moines Register, “He has raised the bar for all of us.”

Thus it has become Monopoly money. And we don’t dare guess where it’s headed. If broadcast income, now at $24 million for each Big Ten member, increases by $16 million or more in the next four to five years (as projected), that’s another pile of money received for doing absolutely nothing different. Put another way, if the annual nut for the Assembly Hall renovation is $9 million for 30 years, within a few years the DIA could handle the entire amount with the anticipated increase in media dollars ... if it didn’t have a list of other plans for the money.
Time for action
You can’t squeeze a size-12 foot into a size-7 shoe, and that’s how it looks for college underclassmen in the NBA’s June draft.

Only 30 players are assured of guaranteed (first-round) contracts. And more than 30 have signed up, not counting seniors like Jeff Withey (Kansas) and Mason Plumlee (Duke), and all those foreigners trying to gain a spot.

There’ll be disappointment for some, including this scribe who has long since tired of reporting the annual exodus from what was once a college sport and has become, at the very least, semi-pro.

This isn’t a call for freshman ineligibility, as we knew in the days prior to Audie Matthews (1975). But it is a call for something to be done when we see roughly half of the draft’s top 20 are likely to be those — Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, etc. — who enrolled for just eight months of college. University presidents and commissioners are overdue in coming to grips with this problem.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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Bwp 5P wrote on April 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

It's a real shame to see what has happened to the College game. I understand the players leaving, but it sure seems like there could be a workable solution.......like baseball has!

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I don't like the baseball rule, either. If preps know they aren't draft-eligible for another three years, way too many of them will go pro. At least in the prep-to-pro era, we only saw a handful of guys who had no business going pro skip college because they knew they could go pro in a year or two anyway.

I say simply extend it by a year: two years out of high school and 20 years old, as opposed to one year out and 19. This is what the NBAPA and the owners were wanting to do anyway before it got shelved as a minor issue during the last CBA negotations. So it probably won't be for another five years (I think that's when the current CBA is up) before it even gets revisited.

Some say it's not fair to the guys who are ready to not let them go pro right away. I agree. Some say that college basketball itself doesn't get you ready for the NBA. I agree with that, too. But I'm not worried about the tippy-top guys. They're gonna be fine. And an extra year in college makes it all the more likely that they're immediate stars, rather than needing another couple years to get there. Look at Damian Lillard; he has a lower ceiling than Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Bradley Beal, and all of those dudes will eventually be better than him. But Lillard, who played in a league that most definitely didn't prepare him for the NBA, came in ready to play at a star level because he was simply physically and mentally more mature. The counter-argument is always, "what if they get hurt?" Well, Nerlens Noel just suffered a fairly catastrophic injury and still might be the No. 1 pick.

So I'm not concerned about the well-being of a few tippy-top guys, because like I said, those guys will be fine. I'm worried about the well-being of the college and NBA games as a whole. Keeping players in college for just one more year will improve both products.

Illini '73 wrote on April 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

Speaking about players turning pro before graduation...  In a recent article in the N-G about Brandon Paul's draft prospects, it stated that being a 4-year college player was a srike against him.  Message to underclassmen - if you have a chance to go pro early, take it.  Don't fall for the lure of a college education.  Sad.

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on April 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

They should just go back to the rule that allowed them to turn pro right out of high school, if that's what the player wants to do.  This whole deal with making them go to college for a year or longer is a joke....these guys have no interest in going to school, so why should they.  Sure, we college basketball fans lose out on seeing some great players, but taking that view is selfish.   The NBA needs to put a little more investment into the Developmental League and give these guys an option that doesn't necessarily include playing in Europe.  Also, maybe some of the cheating and under-the-table deals that currently go on in college basketball would go away.

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 19, 2013 at 11:04 am

Whether they have any interest in going to school isn't really my concern. If they want to do the work to make progress toward a degree that will help them in life if basketball doesn't work out, that's terrific. If not, that's their decision. Is it selfish to want both college basketball and the NBA to be a better product? I suppose so, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The NBA's a pretty damn good product right now that I think could be made slightly better by having rookies come into the league more marketable and well-known because of multiple years of college exploits. The college game is a struggling product that could use a heavy infusion of star power beyond the single year most of the best players currently stick around.

I think there are players who could've been good pros whose careers were derailed because they weren't mentally or physically ready when they came into the league and as a result either got swallowed whole or were never in a situation where their franchise was as heavily invested in them as they would've been if, say, they were 21 years old and ready to contribute immediately. Take a guy like Anthony Randolph, who had superstar athletic ability/skills but came into the league way before he was ready, never had a team heavily invested in him and is already a journeyman before he even turned 25. Maybe that still happens if he spends two, three or four years in college, but at least he'd have had the chance to come into the league when he was closer to being something mentally or physically resembling an adult. 

The only people who I think would be harmed by raising the age limit would be the frauds: the guys whose games would get rightfully further picked apart if they stayed in college longer, who are drafted on perceived potential rather than a combination of production and potential. And I'm not concerned about the frauds, nor should anyone be; the more those guys can be weeded out, the better.

The argument about the Developmental league is a decent one, but I think it's fine for what it is: a tertiary developmental system for fringe NBA prospects. College basketball as a developmental system worked fine for decades, and there's no reason that it still couldn't other than players leaving too early. So I still think simply raising the age limit one more year is the best solution. Ultimately, I don't think it's unfair to the players. Football players have to be three years out of high school; baseball and hockey players- in sports whose very nature necessitate full-blown minor leagues, particularly baseball- have to make a choice. Tennis players and golfers are false analogies because they're in individual sports, rather than being invested in by near-billion dollar organizations.


Moonpie wrote on April 19, 2013 at 11:04 am

This is so so so so so Oracle Tate to make a big deal over meaningless prep ratings. Instead of worrying whether Morgan is rated high or not, he should be worrying over whether the freshman will be able to contribute enough his first year to offset the fact Illinois has almost no bigs. Instead of having a hissy fit over prep ratings, the Legendary Oracle should just admit that the kid has not yet played a minute of college ball and so we just don't know how good he will be--but I hope he turns out well because this team desperately needs some muscle.

uofiisu wrote on April 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm

You are one delusional, tiresome old man.  I've heard of selective hearing but I'm thinking there might be such a thing as selective reading because every time you read one of Tate's columns you take away things from it that NO ONE else does.  The folks in the nursing home probably shouldn't let you use a computer anymore.  I'm guessing you're somewhere around 80-85 years old (??), so how long has this unhealthy obsession with a SPORTS WRITER been going on?  Go fill some other message boards with your constant jibber jabber, everyone here is pretty well tired of it.

PDOG wrote on April 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Moonpie you truly are an idiot. He didn't have a hissy fit or make a big deal out of the rankings. He just wrote a story about it. That doesn't make it a big deal and I didn't see anything in there that lent itself to him having a "hissy fit." If you don't like Tate, stop reading his stuff and commenting on it!

illiniphil85 wrote on April 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Anyone consider that Cowpie might just be Tate trying to generate some hits on his articles?

Half the articles that Tate writes I wouldn't even bother with other than click just to see Cowpie's contribution.

townsend1306 wrote on April 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

you all talk about the college game and what can be done, then you vote GOP, for less goverment.  Collage sports is money, and the only 2 sports that bring in money is football and basketball which supports all other sports program. If the players in football and basketball were to get paid like they should then maybe more  would finish, or stay in school longer it hard or would it hurt to pay these player in football and basketball let say $ 500 a month for freshmen to $700 for a seniors then you would see a higher graduation rate its only fair and who care if you want a job instead of going to school these are the real issues everybody else get paid but the player !!! 

JimOATSfan wrote on April 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Yea, I have been mulling this year whether Tate himself would write these wacky comments, just as an in-house joke. After all, despite the posted NG-HQ comment policy on negative post comments, Editor Jim Russso takes no action and lets him fire away at Tate.

If Tate is a Centenial product, then the odds go up it really is Tate 'moonlighting'.